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I'm from Houston, a graduate of the University of Texas, a fan of the Houston Astros and Houston Texans. But this blog will be about the "greater sports", whatever that means.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

The All Star Game

Most professional sports in America have a lot in common. The cities with the teams are largely the same, and every franchise finds a niche with their local fans. The players are unionized in each and strife is predictable every 10 years or so. Most of the players make 10x - 100x what the average American makes. All have a playoff involving at a minimum 8 teams, and the champion of the playoff is called "World Champions" (save MLS).

And every league has an All Star game. Which will be a focus of this blog. Specifically, how it works now, inherent strengths and weaknesses, and what, in my humble opinion, needs to be done to fix it. We start with the All Star game that will take place this weekend:

League: National Basketball Association
Teams: By Conference
Starters: Chosen by Fans
Other Features: Rising Stars game, Dunk Contest, Three Point Contest
Strengths:
Star Power - Let's face it, we love to see LeBron, Kobe, Durant, J-Rose, CP3, and Superman (Howard) in the same city, on the same court. Just like in the 90's we loved Jordan, Hakeem, Malone, Ewing, and Reggie Miller. And the 80's we loved Bird, Magic, Dominique, Barkley, and even Dr. J.
Production - The event definitely benefits from the ability to mix in music entertainment, special effects, etc.
Ability to stick to game - Rotations are easy so that nobody is put out, local players can be mixed at a higher rate, stars are in at the end.
Weaknesses:
Quality of game - No defense is really played, nobody wants to be physical, so you get a lot of candyland shots (see NHL).
A little too informal - Related to Quality, players seem way too relaxed, nobody really cares about the outcome, other than not getting hurt or getting dunked on.

Summary: The hype of the players (who universally show up, nobody begs off) really carries the event. Every now and then you get a good play, but usually with defensive players bailing like pickpockets when the police show up. The rising stars game was a great addition, the dunk contest needs to be retired, the 3pt contest is decent, but really not worthy of watching. Overall the event is an asset to the league, on a scale of 1-10, I give it a 5.5.

What to do to fix: Toy with the NHL style draft for teams and ditch the dunk contest.

League: National Hockey League
Teams: Captains select from pool
Starters: By captain
Other Features: Draft, skills contest
Strengths:
Star Power - Like the NBA, you get all the stars of the day. Because of the nature of hockey, this isn't quite the same impact as the NBA, but nevertheless, you get some good star power.
Draft - The league has toyed with teams by conference, by N. America vs. World, but this format adds a good playground aspect to it, which hockey finds it roots.
Game Skills - You see some pretty passes and plays during the game, the skill level is so high.
Weaknesses:
Scoring - Like the NBA, nobody plays defense. Hockey isn't hockey without checking and hits.
Player familiarity - There's going to be a lot of players that most fans haven't heard of. Because they play in small markets and not many people watch hockey. But Columbus and Phoenix are about never on TV, so when their players make it, I haven't heard of them.

Summary: TV coverage is outstanding for the event, they do a good job with player mics, etc. Overall worthy of having on TV, but not necessarily being glued to the TV. I give this one a 6.5, slightly better quality of play than the NBA

What to do to fix: A futures game with minor leaguers would add something. Skills contest is okay but not outstanding. Find a way to bring some physical play into it.

League: Major League Baseball
Teams: By League
Starters: Fan Vote
Other Features: Futures Game, Home Run Derby, Winner hosts World Series
Strengths:
Star Power - Again, you see the best of the best. Kids see all their favorite players on the field at the same time, be it Aaron, Mays, Mantle, and Killebrew in the 60's; Yaz, Reggie, Bench, and Rose in the 70's; Schmidt, Ryan, Winfield, and Ozzie in the 80's; Sosa, Bonds, Bagwell, and Griffey in the 90's; or Vlad, Pujols, Ichiro, and Jeter in the 2000's.
True Game - Definitely the sport that represents the most true representation of a real game. Other than the substitutions (more in a minute). You'll probably get a 3-2 game before you'll get a 9-7 game.
Game timing - Midsummer when there is little competition. Midweek when you're not competing with any weekend sports. Really, it's a Tuesday and there is nothing much to watch.
Weaknesses:
Fan Vote - Because of the lopsided attendance and media coverage of big markets, it ruins the starting lineups. NY and Bos dominate the AL. Cubs make the lineup way more than they should. It never represents who deserves.
"It Matters" - This game has no business deciding World Series home field. Extreme overreaction to that one tie.
Everyone plays - When the game is on the line, you end up with the back end of the hitters and that's not right. It should be Pujols or Votto or Hamilton or Teixeira deciding. Instead you get a player who is probably making their debut (like Hunter Pence) who just doesn't stack up.

Summary: A good representation of the game, coverage is good, except with too many distractions. The game lasts too long, needs to start earlier. Here I go with an 6.0, too much room for improvement.

What to do to fix: First and foremost, play the starters (or sub) as if you want to win the game, not as if you want to have everyone play. Use your bench to pinch run, play defense, etc. This game could be the ultimate strategy-fest (with Pujols playing all 9 innings) but instead turns into an exhibition. Also, let baseball people pick the players more, fans need to be disenfranchised. Keep the one player per team, it's part of it.

More detail in a previous blog

League: National Football League
Teams: By Conference, Super Bowl participants excluded
Starters: Fan & Player Vote
Other Features: It's in Hawaii
Strengths:
Only Football Game on that weekend - Fans' games are drying up
Weaknesses:
The game is a sham - Nobody wants to get hurt (why should they). Football is about physical play, so this is not football
Best players missing - Super Bowl participants, out. AFC and NFC Title game losers are mostly out. Anyone with a band aid is out. Vince Young has made two Pro Bowls due to attrition.
Production - The broadcast team punts. Nobody is watching. Very little hype or enthusiasm, the network is just looking to bridge to the next week.

Summary: This game is really nothing to make time for. The competitiveness we love about the regular season has drained all interest in this one. Also, conference pride has diminished, I remember being embarrassed that the AFC had lost so many Super Bowls and wanted them to win this one, now it's a sham of a game. I go with a 2.0, really a Sun Belt conference game is more enticing.

What to do to fix: Tough one. Commissioner is considering just canceling. They already tried to move to Miami. They've played with week before vs. week after the Super Bowl. I personally think the charade of the game is past. The players put way too much into the regular season and playoffs to have anything left. Make it a fan event, where the players show up and interact with fans or something.

League: Major League Soccer
Teams: MLS vs. European team
Starters: Fan and Coach Vote
Other Features: None
Strengths:
Star Power - Having the MLS best team against famous teams in Europe puts all kinds of stars on the field.
True Game - Like baseball, you get what resembles a soccer game. Nobody tanks or doesn't play physical
International Flavor - A taste of the stars we see every World Cup.
Weaknesses:
Lack of Publicity - The MLS management does an inadequate job of marketing this outside of MLS fans.
Sport - It's still soccer and many people aren't interested
Players - Most people probably haven't heard of the players, but this is just soccer.

Summary: This is a good soccer game, fun to see MLS stars all on one side. I don't know what other features there are, I haven't watched. I give this one a 8.0, really they do things right, but nobody gets it.

What to do to fix: Publicize this. Maybe even outside the U.S. Better TV timeslot, better hype of MLS team (maybe a multi-game tour).

Final Standings:
8.0 MLS
6.5 NHL
6.0 MLB
5.5 NBA
2.0 NFL

I think baseball has the most room for improvement. NHL and NBA are always going to be stuck with bad defense. NFL should just cancel.

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